[This issue, we sit down with weird fiction, horror, and occult detective author, Edward M. Erdelac. Here, he discusses his many creative projects; his Merkabah Rider series; his newly-released Rainbringer (starring none other than Zora Neale Hurston); and his forthcoming projects.]
ev0ke: In addition to penning dozens of short stories, you are also a filmmaker and a screenwriter *and* you have contributed to the Star Wars universe. Do these remain separate, or do you find that your work in (for example) filmmaking influences the stories you write? And is the creative process for each different, or is your method for writing a short story similar to how you create a screenplay?
Edward M. Erdelac: I do find stuff bleeding over. Recently a commenter on my blog mentioned having come to my movie via a reference to one of the characters in my Merkabah Rider series. I had forgotten I’d put that in there even.
There is a similarity to the way I approach short stories and screenplays in that when you’re working with both you’re working under constraints of length and format (and in the case of screenplays you’re producing yourself, budget and practicality). Novels are a different animal as there is a lot more space to breathe narratively. Short fiction and screenplays are a lot leaner, a lot tighter generally.
ev0ke: Many of your stories feature lowly little humans facing down immense, utterly alien horrors. What draws you to such stories? Why do you enjoy writing them, and what do you hope readers will get out of them?
EME: To be honest, I think most of my life, or at least, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve lived with a certain sense of helplessness, an inability, real or perceived, to affect significant change in the world around me. I suppose like most writers I attack my personal demons in my work and find a measure of catharsis there. However, although I do write on occasion about inevitability and hopelessness, I’m drawn to underdog stories too, and find the one against many (or one against immensity, say) trope appealing. In the main, I’m simply trying to entertain, but in regards to these particular kind of stories, I suppose I’m reaching out to readers with the same feeling and just…empathizing. If it’s a story where the immensity is overcome, then it pleases me to think I’m bringing a sense of respite and hope, the same catharsis I’m striving for myself. If not, maybe they can just take some kind of solace in the fact that there’s somebody out there that feels the way they feel, putting a voice to that sensation.
ev0ke: There are currently four collections featuring a Hasidic gunslinger known only as the Merkabah Rider. What inspired your creation of this character? How did you go about weaving mystical Judaism and an eldritch, Cthulhu-esque mythos together into a coherent fictional cosmology?
EME: I live in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and naturally grew curious about orthodox Judaism, seeing the men weekend in their wide brimmed hats and payot curls, their white tzitzit tassels hanging down from under their dour coats as they walked to temple. Around the same time I came across the term ‘merkabah rider’ in a book and read about its link to Ezekial’s fiery horse-drawn chariot. The image of a Hasidic man atop a rearing, fiery horse came into my mind.
When I’m onto something good, a good concept, I feel like the research tends to fall into place and support the story I’m pulling together. Judaic mysticism fell in so well with Lovecraftiana I was surprised it hadn’t been done more in depth before. Kabbalists are discouraged from contemplating the state of the universe or existence prior to Creation for instance, which gels nicely with the Lovecraftian concept of forbidden study. And in Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, one of my primary sources of research, there’s the entry for Rahav – “a cosmic sea monster” whom God slew for refusing to help create the earth. The Pardes legend of the four sages who laid eyes upon heaven and were affected in various ways became central to the series. One looked and died, one went mad, one became an apostate. Very Lovecraftian.
ev0ke: Terovolas continues the adventures of Abraham Van Helsing, this time in the American West. Are you a fan of the original Dracula novel? In addition to your own Terovolas, which other books inspired by Stoker’s novel would you recommend?
EME: I am a fan of Dracula, yeah. It’s one of the great epistolary novels, and Abraham Van Helsing is one of my favorite literary characters. There are so many pastiches of Dracula and spin offs … one that really stood out to me was The Secret Life of Laszlo: Count Dracula by Roderick Anscombe. Its connections to the original are kind of tenuous, but it was an interesting take. Sort of like Romero’s Martin. Doug Lamoreaux’s Dracula’s Demeter is worth a look, too.
ev0ke: Your John Conquer series is set in Harlem in 1976. Why a series in that time and place? What unique elements do you get to draw upon by setting the stories there?
EME: It’s kind of a mundane reason, I’m afraid. So I had a maroon 1977 Chrysler Cordoba in my twenties, and I had Conquer driving the same car. As I began writing the Conquer stories, I picked the year 1977 specifically so I could feature that car.
But then, about midway through the second story, I realized I had an idea for a Conquer novel, which I’m working in right now, entitled Fear Of A Black Cat, that partly revolves around the Son of Sam killings and various real life events in NYC in 1977, so I basically moved the year the collection’s stories take place in back to accommodate that. The butchered gorilla carcass found dismembered in a street in the Bronx that kicks off the story Conquer Comes Correct actually happened, though, in that year. But basically all of that collection is now a set up for the events of Fear Of A Black Cat, to which that year and place are integral to the plot.
There are a lot of interesting things happening in NYC in 1977. The town almost saw its first African American mayor, hip hop was born, and there was a city wide blackout. All events that play into the events of Fear Of A Black Cat.
ev0ke: Your latest book, Rainbringer, is a collection of occult detective stories featuring Zora Neale Hurston. First, congratulations! Second, why Zora Neale Hurston as an occult detective? What drew you to her as a protagonist?
EME: Thanks! I became aware of Zora Neale Hurston in college, reading Their Eyes Were Watching God for a writing course and was arrested by the quality of her language. However, it was when I picked up her ethnographic work Tell My Horse, detailing her research into Voodoo in Haiti, that she really got under my skin. I think I came across mention of it in Wade Davis’ The Serpent And The Rainbow and sought it out. I was researching a Haitian zombie screenplay at the time. Then when Oscar Rios at Golden Goblin Press put out a call for Lovecraftian stories featuring minority protagonists, I came across this quote by Zora –
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.
I picked up her biography, her autobiography, and Mules And Men, and became more aware of the amazing, varied life she had led. I realized there were various opportunities to play in the grey areas of her career, which is something I enjoy when fictionalizing history. She had been a Hoodoo initiate, spent time among the Voodoo societies of Haiti, faced down rough types in logging and turpentine camps alone with a .44 pistol, sought a lost city in the Honduran jungles, and rubbed elbows with the luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance at its height. She was a bold, fascinating woman.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Rainbringer? Tall stacks of books? Long hours online?
EME: Yeah, both. First it was going through Zora’s catalog, especially Mules And Men, Tell My Horse, and Dust Tracks On A Road, which were the primary sources for getting into her shoes, then it was tracking down books about her. The best were Valerie Boyd’s Wrapped In Rainbows, Carla Kaplan’s Zora: A Life In Letters, and Robert E. Hemenway’s Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Criterion Channel had some of her fieldwork footage, so that was indispensable, particularly for the story Shadow In The Chapel Of Ease, which featured her in the Sanctified Church in Beaufort, South Carolina as she filmed herself. A lot of people don’t know she’s one of the first African American female filmmakers. I struck gold on Youtube with a video of her introducing and then singing a Geechee folk song.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
EME: I’m one of the only Erdelacs on Amazon. I’m all over Facebook, and I always announce my releases on my blog, Delirium Tremens. Excerpts there, too.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
EME: As I mentioned, I’m knee deep in that Conquer novel, Fear Of A Black Cat. I’ve got a Lovecraftian short story collection coming out at some point this year from Raven Canticle Press entitled That At Which Dogs Howl. I’ve also got a wuxia weird western fantasy novel, The Chilibean Joss. Looking for a publisher for that. I’ve got a children’s book in the works I can’t say too much about at this point.